Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

The Archetypal Sunni Scholar: Law, Theology, and Mysticism in the Synthesis of Al-Bajuri

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

The Archetypal Sunni Scholar: Law, Theology, and Mysticism in the Synthesis of Al-Bajuri

Article excerpt

The Archetypal Sunni Scholar: Law, Theology, and Mysticism in the Synthesis of al-Bajuri. By AARON SPEVACK. Albany, NY: STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS, 2014. Pp. viii + 212. $80.

What does an archetypal Sunni scholar look like? This question is explored in Aaron Spevack's comprehensive biography and intellectual portrait of Ibrahim al-Bajuri (d. 1860), the prolific Shafii jurist, Ashari theologian, and member of the Naqshbandi mystical order, who may be considered one of the last Muslim scholars whose intellectual production was unaffected by reform efforts associated with modernity, and who embodies the ideals of the premodern Islamic education. Spevack not only delineates the archetypal scholar in the Islamic tradition, but also engages debates over the alleged decline of Islamic intellectual thought after the classical period, the closure of the gate of ijtihad, the anti-rationalist tendencies of post-Ghazalian Muslim scholarship, and the stagnation of the ulema as a force in society prior to the reformist wave of the modern period.

The book is divided into five chapters, bracketed by an introduction and conclusion. Chapter one offers a thorough presentation of al-Bajuri's life and scholarship, impressively showing the breadth and depth of this nineteenth-century scholar and long-time rector of al-Azhar. The meticulous list of al-Bajuri's works situates his scholarly activities within the Islamic tradition. In chapter two Spevack sketches out in detail his argument for the contours of the archetypal scholar. Fundamental for defining the archetype of a Sunni scholar are, as argued, the three scholarly traditions of law (fiqh), theology (kalam), and mysticism (tasawwuf). Spevack calls engaging in these three dimensions of Islamic intellectual thought the Gabrielian paradigm (pp. 4-5, 38-48), going back to a hadith in which the angel Gabriel comes to the Prophet and his Companions in human form to explain that the religion of Islam consists of islam, iman, and ihsan--practice, belief, and spirituality. Spevack argues that combining these three elements in the pursuit of law, theology, and mysticism became the normative model for Muslim scholars for over a thousand years, of which al-Bajuri is a prime exemplar. Chapter three further fleshes out the interconnectedness between al-Bajuri and his intellectual predecessors in theology, law, and Sufism, mapping networks of thought that span from al-Shirazi (d. ca. 1083) to al-Sanusi (d. 1490) to later scholars like the Egyptian Maliki al-Laqani (d. 1631). This chapter presents a rich biographical picture of the scholars al-Bajuri engaged, particularly in his commentaries. While Spevack diligently maps the connections between these earlier scholars and al-Bajuri by looking at where and how the latter quoted or referred to them, it seems odd, with the author's admission that al-Bajuri did not explicitly reference Ibn Taymiyya or the views of the Atharis in general, to include Ibn Taymiyya in this type of intellectual heritage. Exploring a connection that is absent in al-Bajuri's work only because Ibn Taymiyya presents "the primary challenge to al-Bajuri s legacy" (p. 90) seems driven by Ibn Taymiyya's importance in the contemporary period rather than his impact on al-Bajuri's scholarly formation.

Chapter four delves into the content of al-Bajuri's scholarship, testing whether teacher-student relationships as well as intellectual networks actually translate into a commonality of thought. Spevack's analysis of al-Bajuri's stance on ijtihad and taqlid, madhhab affiliation, the goals and methods of the mystical path, the permissibility of studying and practicing logic (mantiq), and theological speculation (kalam) demonstrates that al-Bajuri built upon prior scholars' views, often adding and improving their arguments. At the same time, however, he was not shy in diverging from established opinions, either by siding with a minority opinion or pronouncing his own, independent position. …

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